Women In Key Corporate Posts Offer Advice, Encouragement At Entrepreneur Week

By Richard Thompson The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Tech executive Gaby Toledano shared her experiences as chief people officer for Tesla during this year's New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

New Orleans

It's hard enough finding women in executive roles in the male-dominated corporate world, and it's tricky to navigate for the ones who break through -- especially when trying to move up the ladder.

To that end, Gaby Toledano, chief people officer for Tesla, the electric-vehicle upstart, offered some advice during a panel discussion held Thursday as part of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week: Don't focus so much on what's next.

"On my own team, I have 1,300 people. The people that do the best are not the people who are constantly asking, 'How do I move up, how do I move up, how do I move up?' " Toledano said. "It's a simple answer: Do what you're doing now really well."

And once it's time to push for a raise, it's important to know when to advocate for yourself, but it's also important to have actual performance numbers that can back it up.

"I believe in advocating appropriately. It can be annoying -- and this is gender-neutral annoying -- but I think you have to," said Elizabeth Weymouth, managing partner of Plimsoll Partners LLC, a direct investment and merchant banking platform, who also spoke on the panel.

Toledano agreed. "You've been moving up and along because your results are always there and they're indisputable."

The panel discussion was among the first slate of events that kicked off the NOEW Summit, a tightly-compacted two days of events hosted by the nonprofit Idea Village at the Contemporary Arts Center in the Warehouse District.

Entrepreneur Week began Sunday, with six days worth of seminars, workshops and social gatherings supporting and spotlighting local entrepreneurs. Now in its 10th year, the sessions are expected to draw thousands of innovators, business executives, investors and students to the city to take part.

Toledano and Weymouth both grew up in New Orleans.

Toledano's background includes a wide range of human resources assignments, including internationally. Before joining Tesla, she spent more than a decade at Electronic Arts, where she was chief talent officer and an executive vice president. She was also chief people officer at Siebel Systems, a Bay Area software company that was acquired by Oracle Corp. in 2006.

For a decade before founding Plimsoll, Weymouth was a partner at Riverstone Holdings, a $34 billion private investment firm focused on growth capital investments in the energy industry. Ahead of that, she was a managing director at the J.P. Morgan Private Bank's investment business, serving as head of investments for the bank's largest group.

During an hour-long panel, Toledano and Weymouth agreed that the corporate leadership culture for women had improved in recent years, which they partially attribute to women becoming more willing to offer support and reinforce each others' messages when needed, rather than compete against one another.

"It's absolutely better than it used to be, but you know, observations and things that you read are true," Toledano said. "Sometimes your voice is not heard for sure, and when if you get a second woman in the room, we typically come up with strategies that help us."

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